“Kapow-i GoGo” at the PIT – Interview with Amy Jo Jackson

Photo Credit - Keola Simpson

Photo Credit – Keola Simpson

On June 20, the Kapow-i GoGo marathon will be back again at the Peoples Improv Theater. Tickets are on sale now for $30 and available for purchase at the door or online here. I had the chance to sit down with some of the cast and creative team to discuss this unique show and how it came together. Leading up to the marathon, I will be sharing those interviews here.

In Kapow-i GoGo, actress Amy Jo Jackson gets to play a classic Disney-style villainess, Madame Blood, complete with a cackle and a cape. During our conversation, she talks about the importance of a great entrance and her love for deliciously evil villains, starting all the way back with Annie’s Miss Hannigan.

Tell me about yourself and how you got involved in acting and theater.

I grew up in Texas and Colorado, and the choir system in the schools is really very competitive. The choirs where I grew up were all very good, so I’ve been singing in church choirs and school choirs since preschool, and I found that I could sing and wanted to be on stage. I never really wanted to do much else, so I was always an actor person. I went to college for musical theater at Boston Conservatory and then moved to New York. It will have been 10 years in July!

Wow!

I’ll get that official New Yorker card!

What was the first show you remember seeing on-stage?

Well, the first Broadway show that I ever saw was Big when I was twelve or thirteen, and that was great because it had a lot of kids my age in it. I freaked out and wanted to be in it so badly. The first show I saw on stage has definitely got to be a touring production or something at Casa Mañana, which is in Fort Worth. It was probably a children’s show at Casa Mañana that was in the round. As far as touring shows that I remember coming through, I definitely saw Peter Pan a bunch of times whenever it would tour through here.

Were there any actors or shows that really influenced you growing up? Like you said, “I want to be like them” or “I want to be in that show.”

I have a couple of answers to that, some of which are more dignified than others. My mom is a big musical theater fan. Her parents are somewhat musical, but my brother and I are the only performers in our family on either side. But my mom’s side of the family are all musical aficionados, so I grew up watching Julie Andrews’ films and all the Rodgers and Hammerstein films. I would say Julie Andrews when I was younger and Carol Burnett because I used to watch Annie obsessively, and I didn’t want to be Annie, I wanted to be Miss Hannigan! Even at the age of five! I didn’t know what “drunk” was, and I didn’t know what she was drinking, but I would put my hair in sponge rollers, wear a bathrobe, fill my glass up with water, and pretend to be Miss Hannigan and sing “Little Girls.”

Also, I was obsessed with Home Alone, and before they had announced a Home Alone 2, I wanted to be in it, and I wanted Macaulay Culkin and I to be best friends and co-stars. That clearly didn’t happen, but I would say it was a lot of things. It was a lot of films for me when I was younger because in North Texas, there is a lot of theater you can go see, but it’s not necessarily Broadway kind of stuff, so I got a lot from the movies.

How did you first get involved with Kapow-i GoGo?

Sure! My story is a bit longer than some of the others that were doing it at Serials. I was a Bat back in the day, so I’ve been affiliated with the Flea since late 2008. Then I joined the Actor’s Union, so I couldn’t be a Bat anymore, but I’m also a dialect coach and a voice and speech coach. Before I left the Bats, I had dialect coached a main stage show, so everyone knew I did it. They were doing a show about a year later where they needed someone to come and help everyone with their voice and speech stuff, so I came back, and I’ve worked on three shows, two really big ones and one smaller one.

So I started coming to Serials, and my boyfriend was in Kapow-i, so I was definitely coming to see all my friends and also support him, and I just became obsessed with Kapow-i GoGo. I love Matt Cox so much, like he is just so funny and so talented and just a delightful human. I found out they were going to be transferring, and I thought, “Oh, that’s really great.” And Jeff originally wasn’t going to be in it, and then they asked him to do it. He came home one night and said, “Hey, Matt’s writing in this new villain character, and they’ve asked so-and-so to do it, but I was like, ‘No, Amy would like to do it.’” And I thought, “Oh, man, I hope she gets a modeling gig and can’t do it,” and sure enough, later that night, he e-mailed me and then kind of shaped it around me. Sometimes you just hang out with the right people who invite you into their shows!

It’s really fun because I’ve worked with everybody in the cast before but not as an actor. Like, I’ve worked on their diction and their breathing method, but to be able to actually act with everyone, there are only like two other actors in the show who were Bats when I was a Bat, Steve Stout and Keola Simpson. We were all at the Flea together.

Photo Credit - Anya Gibian

Photo Credit – Anya Gibian

For people who haven’t seen the show yet, how would you sum up Kapow-i GoGo, and how does your character Madame Blood fit into the story?

Sure. When I’m describing it to someone who has no relationship to Serials, I say it is nine serialized short plays that tell a story over the course of many years of this girl Kapow-i GoGo, who grows up and becomes the world’s greatest fighter. It’s in the style of cartoons and anime and video games, and then I come in about halfway through and play a Disney villain-style character named Madame Blood. I always say she’s the super evil arch-villainess, and I usually don’t reveal (Spoilers! Highlight text to reveal) the mother angle, (End spoiler) so that’s a nice little touch then that comes in.

I’ve seen the show twice now, and I am amazed by you guys, the stamina you have for these marathons. For you, what is the most challenging part of performing the show? Obviously, you come in about halfway through, so your experience is a little bit different.

For me, honestly, I’m very heat sensitive. I get overheated really easily, so the first marathon we did, I wasn’t watching the first third because I was trying to cram lines for an audition. And so I was sitting backstage, and it got really, really stuffy, and then I put on those black leather boots, and I just did not do so well. Once I went on, I was like, “Oh, no,” and when you hit that, it’s really hard to reverse it if you have to stay in the same environment. So the second marathon, I brought my own personal Gatorades and that really helped a lot.

For me, it’s honestly – and it seems so silly because I’m doing a lot less running around than everybody else, but because of the shoes and the fact that I just get that way really easily, for me, it’s the heat sensitivity. It can get really hot really quickly with all the lights, and everyone’s doing so much make-up. We turn the lights off in the dressing room, like the big bulb lights, when we can, but people are coming in and doing full make-up changes, so it never has an opportunity to get cool backstage. It’s quite warm.

I was talking with a lot of the other actors, and you mentioned that Matt kind of formed the character of Madame Blood around you, once you came on-board. How much did the character of Madame Blood change during the rehearsal process, or did it change all that much?

She really didn’t. What happened was, the earlier episodes were pretty much taken from the Serials scripts and then adapted and things were added, but the newer ones we didn’t get until we got them. Part 2 was in performance, and we didn’t know what was going to happen in Part 3. I want to say that she changed. I knew that she was Kapow-i’s mother, like I knew that to start, and I think Matt wrote her so clearly to start, and she was such a clear archetype.

Photo Credit - Keola Simpson

Photo Credit – Keola Simpson

I’m not an anime nerd at all, so I was like, “Is there anyone I should be looking at? Because I’m kind of thinking, based on episode 6, Maleficent and the Evil Queen, and that’s my point of reference, all these Disney movies,” and he was like, “Well, that’s what I kind of based her on, so you don’t need to be looking at any anime villains.” And I said, “Great, because I can give you Disney villain.” So then I think he kind of wrote her around my skill set.

I wouldn’t say she has changed, but I think she maybe would have been a little bit different if it would have been someone who – I like to use my voice as fully as I can. I like to think he thought, “Well, Amy Jo will make this sound nice, so we’ll do that.” But I think the essence of the character was very clear from the top.

What did change was in episode 8, which was my big one where I have my Emperor Palpatine fight with Kapow-i, he did try to write me in more jokes so that I actually got laughs and to lighten that scene up. Part of what we did was, he was like, “Okay, do what you can to make what we have funny, and then I’ll see if I can lighten up a couple of things.” So I took a couple of lines, and he was like, “Well, I believe I can get a laugh here.” That I would say is the one thing that changed, trying to give me more punchlines so I wasn’t just evil.

I was just reminded of this interview with Bertie Carvel, who played Trunchbull in Matilda over in London and also on Broadway, and he talks about how because he gets this later entrance and because he’s talked about so much, it’s a bigger deal when you finally see him on-stage. Do you find that it’s kind of similar with Madame Blood? Obviously, there’s the running gag about you being super evil.

I love that pay-off. I actually love when I (Spoilers! Highlight text to reveal) come out as the mother for the first time when we get the flashback (End spoiler) I really like that. I feel like that’s a nice pay-off because, I mean, it’s less now that we’ve been doing it for a while, but a lot of people in the earlier audiences know me, so they were saying, “When is Amy Jo coming in? I wonder if she’s playing that Madame Blood person.”

You know, I played another role in Boeing-Boeing, I’ve done it twice. It’s a hilarious play, and the premise is that there’s this guy who lives in Paris, and it’s in the 60s, and he has a friend that comes unexpectedly from out of town from Minnesota to visit. The friend finds out that this guy has three fiancées, and they are all stewardesses, so they don’t know the others exist, right? Because they’re all on different airlines. There’s an Italian, an American, and a German. So the German, she’s the last person to enter, probably about fifty minutes to an hour depending on how quickly it goes, so the audience is so ready for you to enter. So it’s a little bit like that, but because I don’t get entrance laughter, I don’t feel it as much as I would in something like Boeing-Boeing. I’m six-feet tall with short blonde hair, and I’m shameless, so like I run on stage as this German person, and everyone’s like, “Yes!” But for Madame Blood, there’s still the question of, because it could be someone else.

Amy Jo Jackson and Madeleine Bundy

She’s not really revealed until the end of episode 6, and then we get her other reveal too. So I don’t know. I feel there’s a shift in the audience because of that new underscoring and the new lighting, so I feel the audience go, “Huh.” But I’ve never really talked to anybody about how many people immediately caught on, “I wonder if this is Madame Blood because she has a cape.”

Is there a particular scene or moment in the show that you are particularly proud of?

I love that big fight scene. My two favorite moments in that are, because I’m a voice and speech nerd, when I sort of drop the heightened voice I’m using and just when I’m yelling after I use the electrifier on her for the first time and go, “You don’t run a world domination organization in the shadows for years..!” and I really kind of embrace this different voice.

I love that, and I also love talking back to the computer and just giving him the password and all. That’s so much of me amusing myself with just the pace at which I speak and talking differently to the computer (evil voice) “than I talk to the other people on stage!” I derive so much pleasure. I always come off-stage after that, and Colin and Evan are back there, holding explosions and like, “Yasss!” So I always come off from that scene being like, (sigh) “Ahhh…” Because it’s just really satisfying to get to do.

As an actor, do you prefer playing heroes or villains?

Oh, villains. I don’t know, I never get to play heroes. I guess if I were playing a Greek war hero. If I were playing like Achilles, I might have a different answer for you, but I’m not playing Achilles, so villains. They’re delicious, you know? And especially if they’re a villain in a piece like this where, not that there’s something redeeming about them, but like there is a height to it which makes them exciting. They’re not just like heinous-heinous, even if they’re so evil. There’s a charm to them. In most Disney villains, there’s some kind of charming factor, and like, oh, I like them in spite of myself. That’s really fun to play.

Kapow-i GoGo - Team Shot

Out of the three parts, which is your personal favorite? Like, if you got to sit back in the audience and watch one of those parts.

I would say 1 or 3. With most trilogies, the second one bears the weight of a lot of plot, and there’s some really fun stuff in it. I love the sequence that I’m in, where I’m a singer and there’s that whole sort of dream ballad scene. There’s some really fun stuff in 2. Probably 3. There’s so much that culminates, and I always run upstairs to watch that entire Avengers sequence, which is so funny, and there are so many pay-offs, and it has heart, and it’s funny. I think that’s the most elegant writing because it starts as one thing in Part 1 and ends up a completely different thing. I’ll go with Part 3.

If you could swap parts with any other cast member for one performance, who would it be and why?

Ooh, ooh! I know everyone’s probably saying Hicc-up. Everyone is so Team Hicc-up. I would probably…I mean, Matt has all the best lines. I would not be as funny as Matt because no one is, but I’d probably want to play Mr. Snuggles. That’s probably one that people have said, too, because it’s so good, and he’s so funny. In rehearsal, often because Matt and Karsten both work at a certain point in the day, like one of them can only be there until a certain point and one has to show up late. So someone is always reading for Karsten or Matt, so I’ve heard everyone’s Mr. Snuggles and Mr. Smiles, and they are really funny.

Photo Credit - Eleanor Philips

Photo Credit – Eleanor Philips

It’s interesting because when I was chatting with some of your fellow cast members, and some of them said they would love to play Madame Blood.

What?!?

I heard Madame Blood, Hicc-up –

Oh, I knew Hicc-up. Everyone loves Hicc-up. Those costumes are quite a trial to get on. I’ve seen him do all his changes. That’s awesome, though! I feel, I feel powerful.

Someone told me it’s the cape, but in your opinion, why is it so good to be Madame Blood?

I mean, it is the benefit of I get to come in late, and because you are talked about – I shot a film recently. It was a sort of vampire horror film, which the director wouldn’t like me calling it that. It’s a “supernatural horror film,” but anyways, it’s a vampire movie. But I play the queen of a particular clan, and I have this giant feathered headdress, it’s amazing. But the director is talking to the extras on-set for my entrance, and he was like, “Look, nobody can play queen. You all need to give her that status. She is a queen because of how you treat her, so when the queen comes through, this is the respect you afford her. There’s no way Amy Jo can act queen. You have to act queen.” And I’m like, that’s such a smart thing to say, and so a part of it is that people have been talking about her and have already given her such status, and there’s such a fear built into the text that you kind of are just able to come on-stage and luxuriate in that.

As long as I get on with it and say things in a kind of sinister way, a lot of the heavy lifting is done for me by the writing and by the entire cast. And yeah, you’re playing a character that’s been very talked about over the course of two hours before I show up! That’s pretty cool. It’s pretty cool to be the name on everybody’s lips.

Photo Credit - Cristina Pitter

Photo Credit – Cristina Pitter

Kapow-i GoGo is obviously based on anime, video games, and Saturday morning cartoons. Did you have any favorite cartoons or TV shows growing up, and did you have the Saturday morning cartoon ritual?

Oh, yes. And we lived nearby this amazing donut store, so sometimes my dad would go get donuts and we would watch cartoons. I watched so many cartoons. I have a brother who is two years younger, who incidentally loves Kapow-i GoGo, but oh man, we watched a lot of cartoons. I mean, Sonic the Hedgehog, which brings up the video game and cartoons, with Jaleel White as the voice of Sonic I found out many years later. I was a huge Family Matters fan, I would have wanted that information at the time.

Darkwing Duck and Rescue Rangers, all of those. God, I loved Darkwing Duck. Oh, and Duck Tales, I mean, there were a lot, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! We had so many of those toys. I bought April and Raphael because they were my favorites, and then my brother had all the rest of them. Sometimes on a Saturday morning, I’ll make pancakes and put on cartoons from Netflix.

Not to mention, they put all the Power Rangers on Netflix, too.

Yeah, I watched those as well. I have a younger brother, but then I also have two slightly younger cousins who were raised like brothers with us, basically. We lived in the same neighborhood, so I kind of considered them younger brothers. They are five and six years younger than me, so we watched a lot of Pokemon and Power Rangers. Amy Jo Johnson, she was the pink Power Ranger. That’s why I almost didn’t go with Amy Jo Jackson for my professional name. I was like, “I don’t know, man. People are going to think I’m the pink ranger.”

Tell me why people should come see the Kapow-i GoGo marathon at the Peoples Improv Theater on June 20!

Because it will be an amazingly good time. It’s funny and then surprisingly beautiful and deep, and that is what I think most people will walk away with, that I had such a good time, and I felt things, and I wasn’t expecting to. I think that’s really the delightful thing about the show. Feelings!

Where can people find out more about you and your upcoming projects?

I have a website, Twitter handle @amyjojackson, and a YouTube channel. I’m also @amyjojackson on Instagram. I don’t currently have any major projects to plug, as I’m just doing some concerts and readings over the next month. People should go see Kinky Boots if they haven’t already – I’m the dialect coach on the Broadway, 1st National Tour, and Toronto productions!

2012-01-01 00.00.00-135

Lightning Round!

Lucky Charms or Cocoa Puffs?

Oh, Lucky Charms.

Pop Rocks or Warheads?

Warheads. I mean, neither really, but Warheads if I had to choose.

You’ve freed the magical Hydra! Do you wish for a robot army or telekinetic powers?

Telekinetic powers, obviously.

Which would you rather have for a pet, Whiskers the Fighting Cat or a small flock of Moo-bats?

Oh, Whiskers. Whiskers the Fighting Cat, for sure.

“F— Marry Kill”: Master Masterwhiskies, Tuxedo Gary, and King Cloudberry

(laughs) Okay, one of them is my boyfriend, so I will say, I will kill Master Masterwhiskies, I’ll f— Tuxedo Gary, and probably marry my boyfriend, King Cloudberry.

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One thought on ““Kapow-i GoGo” at the PIT – Interview with Amy Jo Jackson

  1. Pingback: Interview: Amy Jo Jackson Wants To Be Your Man (Or Play One On Stage) | Ludus NYC - On Broadway, Off Broadway, And Everything In Between

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